Monday, December 05, 2005

"Roller Ball Murder"

So I worked an early shift a couple of Tuesdays ago, and I was struck by how heavy traffic seemed to be compared to the Wednesday through Sunday shifts I used to work at the same time of day. Not only was traffic heavy, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of lousy drivers piloting pick-up trucks, an even higher percentage than normal in Oklahoma. Today (Tuesday again) I once again worked an early shift, and once again, the 5:30 a.m. roads were just crammed with rude, crappy drivers in pick-up trucks (about which I may rant at length tomorrow). What is it with Tuesdays?

Where was I? Oh, yes, "Roller Ball Murder." As I said yesterday, I picked up a book with the short story in it at Gardener's Used Books on Saturday.

I'm amazed at how close to the original story the movie was, although perhaps I shouldn't be, considering the screenplay is credited to William Harrison, the same man who wrote the story. The story is very short, but almost all the elements of the film are there: the aging hero who thinks there should be more to life, the corporations ruling the world, the shifting rules to create more carnage, even very specific scenes in the movie -- one in which Jonathan E gives a training demonstration to some rookies, and the very memorable scene in which Jonathan's best friend Moonpie is killed.

Of course, Harrison had to flesh it out, which means there's lots of material in the movie which is not in the story. Not only did the movie require a linear plot (which the story really doesn't have) but it also had to add numerous details and bits of business (my favorite being the way Caan pounds his fist against his thigh while they play the corporate anthem before a game). In the story, Jonathan E is targeted by other teams as a dangerous opponent, but is never singled out by the corporations as a man who poses a danger to the social order, nor does he triumph at the end. The story ends with him about to enter the climactic match and feeling sure that he won't survive. The movie, on the other hand, presents Jonathan not as a tired old campaigner about to meet his final fate, but as a hero who rises above his circumstances by inspiring the masses.

The last time I saw it, the movie hadn't aged well. The low budget shows more and more with the passage of time, and the "futuristic" look of the film is horribly dated. But it still has enough good moments to make it worth watching, especially compared with what little I've seen of the almost universally despised remake (which I've only seen bits of).

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